Through the Viewfinder: Northeast Los Angeles from Elysian Park, 1913

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Today’s “Through the Viewfinder” entry takes in a remarkable stereoscopic photograph from the Homestead’s collection showing a portion of northeast Los Angeles, a rapidly growing area of the booming city, in 1913.

Taken by amateur photographer B.W. East, whose photos were developed by mail through Sears, Roebuck and Company, the view was taken from an outlook called Buena Vista Point at the northeastern corner of Elysian Park.  The area closest in view is Cypress Park, with neighborhoods further out including Mt. Washington and Highland Park.  A bit of Lincoln Heights is also showing at the upper right at the base of the hill that now constitutes Montecito Heights.

At the very bottom of the photograph, the Los Angeles River is mainly out of view and, at the center, is the Los Angeles Pigeon Farm, which was established in the early 1890s as a food production facility.  While this is not the case today, pigeons, or squabs as they are also called, were commonly eaten in bygone days and William Workman had a dovecote above a gate at the southern end of the courtyard behind his home.  A future post here will focus on the pigeon farm, using some artifacts from the museum’s holdings.

SV View From Elysian Park Los Angeles 2013.323.1.32
This 1913 stereoscopic photograph by amateur photographer B.W. East, from the Homestead’s collection, is taken from Buena Vista Point in the northeast corner of Elysian Park and overlooks a burgeoning area of Northeast Los Angeles, including Cypress Park, Mt. Washington, Highland Park and other areas.

Flanking the north edge of the farm are the tracks of the Southern Pacific railroad, which was completed through the area in the 1870s in a watershed moment in Los Angeles’ history to connect the nascent city to San Francisco.  At the center right are rows of boxcars parked along the tracks.  Today, the pigeon farm location is a railyard for the Metrolink rapid transit system, which uses the rail line for its heavily used services into the eastern San Fernando Valley and up to Lancaster and Palmdale.

Speaking of “watershed moments,” at the upper right of the image is the wide and meandering Arroyo Seco, which means “dry creek” in Spanish.  While it was often true, that the water course, which emerged from the San Gabriel Mountains above Pasadena and terminates twenty-five miles later at its confluence with the Los Angeles River, was dry or had little water, there were times when significant flooding occurred.

This took place just months after this photo was taken, during a heavy rainfall in the winter of 1913-14, which led to massive flooding in the area shown in the photo.  So, if East was to have returned to Buena Vista Point to snap an image after the floods, the view would have been considerably different (including of the pigeon farm.)

In later years, the arroyo was, as most of our regional rivers and creeks, “tamed” by being converted into a flood control channel with the flow regulated by the building of Devil’s Gate Dam near where the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is today.

As far as some of the streets are concerned, the road coming in from the right center is Avenue 26, which crosses the Arroyo Seco from Lincoln Heights and connects with San Fernando Road, which veers sharply towards the left center.  San Fernando Road, as its name implies led to the mission town and the thoroughfare was the major route leading north into Newhall Pass and points north.

The two major streets at the center of the image are, at the left, Idell Street and, to its right, Jeffries Avenue.  A small stand of dark green trees where Avenue 26 merged into San Fernando Road and the area where to the right with a larger group of trees is what was for a few decades from about 1960 to 1990, the well-known Lawry’s California Center.

Today, the complex is the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens, a facility dedicated to the renewal (untaming?) of the river and where exhibits, educational gatherings, community events and other programs are held and where several non-profit organizations have offices, including the National Park Service, Los Angeles Conservation Corps and Friends of the Los Angeles River.

At the upper left is part of the Mt. Washington neighborhood, where, the year after this photo was taken, the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, now part of the Autry Museum of the American West, was opened by its eccentric and visionary founder, Charles F. Lummis.  Lummis’ hand-built residence, El Alisal, now a city park, was at the upper center of the photo.  Further off are the San Rafael Hills between Glendale and Eagle Rock on the west and Pasadena on the east and, beyond that, at the upper left a bit of the San Gabriel Mountains, providing a rugged backdrop to a very interesting image of a growing part of Los Angeles from just more than a century ago.

Here is a Google Maps view of the general area.

UPDATE, 23 October 2023:  Thanks to Andy Broomell, who sent in this comment about the image and even provided an annotated version of it showing some of the principal streets for better identification:

The photo wasn’t taken from Buena Vista Point, but rather somewhere near Point Grand View, perhaps even from the area that later collapsed in the 1937 landslide. In present day, my guess is that the closest POV would be the picnic tables located at 34.081089, -118.22913 (or somewhere along that ridge).

When it comes to the roads, it’s a little confusing at first because it’s very different than present day. It took me a while to figure out what I was seeing. The main road coming in from the right is not Avenue 26, but rather Avenue 20, which these days is renamed as part of San Fernando Road and includes the roundabout (which would be at the right side of the photo, with the old Dayton bridge coming in from the lower right on a curve).

The prominent road coming towards us in the middle of the picture is Huron, which today is mostly replaced by the Home Depot parking lot and the 5 overpass. Which means the road on the upper left is Jeffries and the one on the right is Dayton (present day Figueroa).

The bridge that’s easily visible over the Arroyo Seco would be Avenue 26, and barely visible in the distance is a rail crossing aligned with Cypress. Avenue 20 in the foreground would’ve also crossed the Arroyo Seco out of frame right.

2 thoughts

  1. Can we identify the Arroyo bridgeworks on the upper right? The Salt Lake line to Glendale seems to be around a bend and a streetcar bridge may be lower out of view. So is this one an auto road crossing?

  2. Hi Al, thanks for your question and, hopefully, someone out there who well knows this area of Los Angeles might have an answer. Given the time period and the growing use of the automobile, it makes sense that the bridge could have been for that purpose. There was a major flood the following year that did a great deal of damage along the Arroyo, so it may have been washed out.

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